(Courtesy of Activision)

Destiny 2: Forsaken
Developed by: Bungie
Published by: Activision
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

The games in the Destiny series have always aspired to keep players busy not for hours or weeks, but months on end. When the first game launched in 2014, it appeared on track to accomplishing its mission. (Indeed, there was a running joke on Eurogamer about the number of articles devoted to Bungie’s interplanetary shooter.) Despite the fact that “Destiny” came in for a critical drubbing due to its patchwork story, it supported a community that appeared quite content running through its various activities repeatedly to acquire rare loot — exotic weapons or armor. Last year’s “Destiny 2” launched alongside much more positive reviews, but failed to produce the same type of long-term buzz as its predecessor.  (Some faulted the game for the distribution of its rarer items and wondered if the developers were trying to steer players into spending money on loot boxes.)

Over the course of Destiny’s life span, Bungie has proven itself adept at creating major expansions that put out a siren’s call to lapsed players. “Destiny” had “The Taken King,” which proved that the developers could tell a coherent, if ultimately forgettable, story and now “Destiny 2” has “Forsaken.” The new expansion pulls the classic shake-up-the-franchise move of knocking off a well-known character to inject a semblance of urgency into the narrative.


(Courtesy of Activision)

“Forsaken’s” campaign mode begins beneath the purple skies of the Prison of Elders where you and two of the game’s good guys attempt to quell a prison uprising. After things go calamitously south for one of your comrades, your Guardian sets out on a path of retribution. Though this revenge tale builds to a predictable reversal of fortune at the end, it’s told with breezy economy. Try as I might, I failed to spot any promising new howlers to compete with “Destiny’s” infamously cheesy dialogue. (My cousin, with whom I played through most of the game, is quite fond of quoting one of the more choice lines from “Destiny 2,” “Back off you ugly piece of work.”)

Most of “Forsaken’s” missions take place in a section of the Asteroid Belt known as the Tangled Shore, a new addition to Destiny’s many stunning landscapes. Roaming through the area with AV Club contributor Reid McCarter, I found myself in agreement with McCarter’s observation that the environments recall the galactic splendors of old science fiction book covers. (I played “Forsaken” on a PS4 Pro hooked up to a Samsung 4K QLED TV, and was impressed with the game’s checkerboard rendering which delivers a remarkably clear if not quite native 4K image.) “Forsaken” offers some of the most spectacular light shows in all of gaming. Numerous times, as I watched projectiles whizzing through the air while Guardians deployed their “supers” or comic-book-heroesque special attacks, I couldn’t help but wonder how the developers managed to cram so many effects on screen with nary a dip in frame rate.


(Courtesy of Activision)

Besides adding more of what players have come to expect from a new Destiny add-on — new gear, side quests, cooperative missions, and a raid — “Forsaken’” introduces Gambit, a new activity that fuses co-op and player-vs-player gameplay. In Gambit, two four-player teams compete against each other over three rounds by taking on waves of AI controlled enemies. Slaying an enemy causes it to drop a mote, a silvery triangular object, that can be picked up and deposited in a team’s bank. After a team deposits 75 motes, it’s able to summon an AI-controlled boss known as a Primeval. The first team to destroy a Primeval wins the round. Complicating matters, if your character dies before banking his or her motes those potential points are permanently lost. That said, the more motes that you bank at one time (up to 15 can be carried by a single Guardian) the more powerful an AI-controlled enemy you’ll send to stand over the other team’s bank. (Motes cannot be deposited as long as an enemy is standing in the vicinity of a bank.)  Furthermore, once a team has banked 25 motes a portal opens up allowing one team member to invade the other side. Doing so allows the team’s invader to either collect additional motes by downing other players or, if the opposing team has already summoned a Primeval, to heal it.

Gambit is tailor-made for a person like me, someone who gravitates to co-op but doesn’t mind a dash of player-vs-player every now and then. I enjoyed my time with it except when I got stuck on a team whose players were more concerned with killing enemies than banking motes — grr . . .

As much as I like Gambit, I won’t be playing it incessantly. I’m wary of open-ended games because of the time commitment. I’m certainly not immune to the charms of grinding for a slightly better gun but, for me, the spell inevitably fizzles and what was calming, even meditative, turns vacuous. Then, sometimes, the cycle repeats itself. So, I think of Destiny as a digital resort. Like a tourist trap, it provides a predictable, consistent experience that’s enlivened by its eye-catching environments. It’s all good until the feeling of stagnation sinks in.

This post has been updated.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

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